Understanding Substance Abuse Among Veterans
Substance abuse among veterans is a relatively common problem. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), around 1 in 10 veterans who seek help from the VA Department of Veterans Affairs at a veterans rehab center meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. This rate is higher than that of the general population, which may have to do with the combination of unique stressors faced by veterans after they return home.1
This article will help veterans and their family members understand what may be causing a veteran’s drug addiction, offer education about the issues that impact veterans and their mental health, and how you or a loved one can access substance abuse help for veterans at a Nevada veterans drug rehab so you can start the recovery process and take back control of your life.
Substance Abuse Treatment for Veterans
Veteran substance abuse issues can typically be treated with one or a combination of the common modalities of addiction treatment at veteran substance abuse programs, which includes detox, inpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment. Detox is not technically a form of treatment, but it is usually the first step in recovery because it helps you stop using drugs or alcohol and safely and comfortably withdraw from the substance. This component of drug rehab for veterans helps you become medically stable so you can begin the recovery process at a veteran drug treatment center.11 You may receive medications to help you deal with withdrawal symptoms or symptoms of co-occurring disorders, and you will receive assistance with entering a substance abuse treatment program at a veteran rehab center. Veterans who have successfully completed detox are encouraged to transition to an inpatient facility or to an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center to begin the recovery process.
Inpatient rehab for veterans means that you live at a veteran rehabilitation center for the duration of treatment. It is also commonly referred to as residential treatment. This form of treatment provides a high level of support and monitoring and can be beneficial for those with severe substance use problems, those who do not have supportive home environments, and those who want to remove the distractions of their daily lives so they can focus on recovery. Outpatient treatment is another option that can be helpful for those with less severe addictions or those with supportive home environments. People who complete an inpatient stay often transition to outpatient care and then continue their recovery by participating in ongoing aftercare like support groups, individual counseling, or group therapy.
Integrated treatment is important for veterans because it focuses on not only the addiction but also addresses any underlying medical or mental health concerns. Integrated treatment essentially means that treatment focuses on two or more psychiatric disorders that occur at the same time, otherwise known as dual diagnosis or comorbid disorders. It involves using multiple treatments such as medication (pharmacotherapy) and psychotherapy. This form of treatment has been consistently found to be one of the best ways of treating dual diagnosis when compared to treatment that only focuses on individual disorders.12
Are There Rehab Programs Specifically for Veterans?
Specialized treatment programs like Desert Hope in Nevada run by American Addiction Centers are designed to treat the unique mental health and addiction challenges faced by veterans. Veterans affairs drug rehab programs address all types of problems related to mental health and substance abuse, whether that means learning to control your alcohol use or helping you overcome life-threatening addictions. VA providers offer help to veterans who may be struggling with both short-term and chronic, lifelong substance use problems.13
Inpatient drug rehab for veterans and outpatient veteran drug rehab centers provide a range of specialized services including proven therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), anger management programs, and specialized community-based support groups that you can meet with regularly as a part of therapy. This is an especially helpful way to share your experiences and gain support from other veterans who know what it’s like to walk in your shoes. I
How to Use the VA for Rehab
The VA offers a range of support for veterans struggling with mental illness and substance abuse. According to the VA, they provide effective, scientifically proven services for all eligible veterans that can include:13 bullets
- First-time screening for alcohol or tobacco use.
- Brief outpatient counseling sessions to help you increase your motivation to change.
- Intensive outpatient treatment, meaning that you attend treatment several times a week while living at home.
- Residential care, meaning inpatient treatment.
- Medically managed detoxification and services to help you become stable.
- Continuing care and relapse prevention services.
- Marriage and family counseling, if appropriate to your needs.
- Self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
- Drug substitution therapies and newer medicines to reduce craving and help you stay sober.
To seek assistance, the VA encourages you to speak to your VA healthcare provider, get in touch with the OEF/OIF Coordinator at your local VA Medical Center, contact your local Vet Center, or call 1-800-827-1000, the VA’s general information hotline. You can find a list of VA and Vet Centers on the VA’s website.
Can Veterans Use Health Insurance to Pay for Rehab?
Your insurance may cover some or all of the costs of treatment. If you are enrolled with the VA Healthcare System, you may be eligible for treatment through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program. To find out if you are covered or to learn how to apply, you can visit the VA’s website regarding the Basic Medical Benefits Package for Veterans, or contact the program’s office at 1-877-222-8387.
Desert Hope Treatment Center and American Addiction Centers accept most types of private (meaning non-government) insurance and they are working to expand treatment access for those in need. Desert Hope is now in-network with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the largest managed healthcare providers in the nation. Treatment centers also typically offer a variety of payment options, and they will help you with verifying your insurance coverage and determining the best way to pay for care. You can instantly check your benefits online on our website.
The Tricare/Triwest is the Department of Defense’s healthcare program for service members and their families and helps veterans access treatment. Tricare West administers the Tricare program for western states, including Nevada, and provides coverage for behavioral health treatment through its Community Care Network (CCN); they may provide coverage for care at Desert Hope as well as other treatment facilities. Tricare West’s covered addiction treatment servicesmay include inpatient services, intensive outpatient programs, detoxification, medication-assisted treatment, mental health therapeutic services, office-based opioid treatment, opioid treatment programs, partial hospitalization programs, and residential substance use disorder treatment.
Why is Addiction a Problem Among Veterans?
According to a report by the American Psychological Association, over 2 million Americans have been deployed to regions like Afghanistan and Iraq, with many of them returning home with complex and challenging mental, cognitive, and behavioral health issues.2 top p.1 Veterans face many difficult, severe, and life-threatening situations and stressors that most of the general population never experiences, so, understandably, military life and its associated experiences can have a profound impact on a veteran’s overall health. They often experience issues like chronic pain, brain injuries, and mental health disorders like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Addiction can develop as a result of these disorders and may also be affected by different military stressors, but those with multiple deployments, combat exposure, and combat-related injuries may have the highest risk of substance use disorders.1 Fortunately, these issues can be treated at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ substance abuse programs as well as affiliated VA drug rehab Nevada treatment centers like Desert Hope, which are a part of the VA’s network of approved community care providers of rehab for veterans.
Chronic Pain, Brain Injuries, & Substance Abuse
Why are veterans disproportionately affected by chronic pain and brain injury? The nature of military work and experiences can be extremely dangerous and traumatic and can lead to multiple and severe injuries, known as polytrauma, which can cause a host of physical and mental health issues like chronic pain, PTSD, or a traumatic brain injury (TBI).3 Unfortunately, these issues are very common among veterans. According to The Department of Veterans Affairs, between 2000 and 2017, there were more than 375,000 diagnosed cases of TBI among members of the US armed forces around the world.4 Furthermore, there is a significant overlap between TBI and PTSD, with one study pointing out that mild TBI can increase the risk of PTSD.5
Musculoskeletal problems are one of the most common reasons for discharge from active duty. One survey of American Gulf War veterans reports that the most commonly self-rated severe healthcare problem was back pain, with 17% of respondents reporting this as a concern, followed by joint pain, reported by 15% of survey participants.3 Chronic pain conditions can be difficult to treat and resistant to treatment, which can have an impact on mental health as well. Veterans who have experienced TBI and PTSD have an increased risk of chronic pain because both of these conditions affect the way the brain functions and experiences pain.6
Chronic pain and TBI could lead to an increased risk of substance abuse because people may abuse drugs or alcohol as a way of self-medicating their symptoms. According to a report by chronic pain expert and psychologist David Cosio of the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago, between 3% and 48% of people who suffer from chronic, non-cancer pain also have a current substance abuse disorder.7
Common Mental Illnesses Among Veterans
According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, depression, PTSD, substance use disorder (SUD), anxiety disorder, and serious mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are some of the most common psychiatric issues affecting veterans.8 Veterans who experienced trauma or were hospitalized or injured during combat have an increased risk of SUD, and those with SUD are around 3-4 times more likely to have a depression or PTSD diagnosis, according to the NIDA.9 Veterans with a mental illness may self-medicate their psychiatric symptoms with drugs or alcohol, which can lead to the development of an SUD.10
Not only can the dangers and experiences faced during active duty have an impact on mental health, but readjusting to life after military service can also be challenging, as veterans may struggle to reintegrate into society and life with their family and friends. These struggles can profoundly affect a veteran’s mental health and well-being, and may also contribute to the development of an SUD.9 Fortunately, seeking treatment at a Veterans Affairs dual diagnosis program can be a beneficial way to help you successfully manage both the mental illness and the substance use disorder.
How to Find Substance Abuse Treatment for Veterans
American Addiction Centers is a leading provider of integrated treatment and dual diagnosis rehab for veterans in both Nevada and nationwide. Our Desert Hope Salute to Recovery program can help you—or your loved one—overcome addiction and start the path to a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life where you no longer need to use substances to cope with your mental health concerns. Call our free, confidential helpline any time of day or night—our Treatment Advisors are standing by 24/7 to help answer your questions and address any concerns you may have about veteran’s addiction treatment in Nevada or anywhere else you may be located in the U.S. We can be reached at 702-800-2682.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Military Life and Substance Use.
- American Psychological Association. The Mental Health Needs of Veterans, Service Members and Their Families.
- Gauntlett-Gilbert, J., & Wilson, S. (2013). Veterans and chronic pain. British Journal of Pain, 7(2), 79–84.
- S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020). Mental Health: Effects of TBI.
- Bryant R. (2011). Post-traumatic stress disorder vs traumatic brain injury. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 13(3), 251–262.
- Defrin, R., Riabinin, M., Feingold, Y., Schreiber, S., & Pick, C. G. (2015). Deficient pain modulatory systems in patients with mild traumatic brain and chronic post-traumatic headache: implications for its mechanism. Journal of Neurotrauma, 32(1), 28–37.
- Cosio, D. (2017). Chronic Pain and Substance-Related Disorders. Practical Pain Management, 17(10).
- Trivedi, R. B., Post, E. P., Sun, H., Pomerantz, A…& Nelson, K. (2015). Prevalence, Comorbidity, and Prognosis of Mental Health Among US Veterans. American Journal of Public Health, 105(12), 2564–2569.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Substance Use and Military Life DrugFacts.
- S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2021). Mental Health: Substance Use.
- S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020). Substance use treatment for Veterans.
- Kelly, T. M., & Daley, D. C. (2013). Integrated treatment of substance use and psychiatric disorders. Social Work in Public Health, 28(3-4), 388–406.
- S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Mental Health: Treatment Programs for Substance Use Problems.
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